With scouts watching during NBA All-Star weekend, it's time for potential NBA call-ups to shine.
Elijah Millsap could end up on an NBA team this year, especially if he can impress this weekend.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
WATCH THE NBA D-LEAGUE ALL-STAR GAME LIVE ON NBA TV (2 PM ET, SATURDAY)
Or watch online, starting at 2:30 p.m. on Futurecast
If the NBA D-League Showcase is an audition – a two-game chance to take your whole life in basketball and squeeze it onto a clipboard – this is a playground.
Well, sort of.
When the NBA Development League All-Star Game (presented by 26 Seconds) goes off on Saturday at NBA Jam Session in Orlando (2 p.m., live on NBA TV), it’ll be a chance for 20 of the NBA D-League’s best players – and some of the world’s best NBA Prospects – to come together for a rare chance to let loose. It’ll be a chance to showcase the skills that got them this far and, in many cases, the ones that will get them an NBA bid in the coming months.
But nothing in the NBA D-League is purely for fun. Not while guys who’ve breathed the game for two decades are this close to their dream. And, just like Showcase, the All-Star Game also gives NBA teams the luxury of having Prospects come to them. So scouts will be there, mixed in with the fans coming to see the show.
So enjoy the show, including L.D. Williams’ title defense at the NBA D-League Slam Dunk Contest – taking place at halftime of the game (and also live on NBA TV) – and the Dream Factory afterwards, but if you want to watch the game like a scout, here’s how:
The D in D-League
Not everybody in the All-Star Game has cracked into the top tier of NBA Prospects. Most have – and you can read about them here. But, to a man, they’re in the top flight of scorers in the league.
So watch the scorers, sure. But if you want to find out who’ll be taking his show to the world’s biggest stage, pay attention to the stoppers. As a coach at Showcase told us, “if you can’t stop a guy in the NBA D-League, you can’t stop a guy in the NBA.” In this case, though, defenders will have a chance to show that they can stop the guys who are just a rung below the NBA. In other words, it’ll be a player’s best chance to show that he can get stops on the NBA level.
You know this name.
You know the name for a bunch of reasons that, by know, Gerald Green would rather you not know it. Like, for example, you might know him as the guy who won the Slam Dunk Contest by blowing out a candle in 2008, lost to Dwight Howard’s Superman dunk the next year then couldn’t get an NBA contract after 2009.
But Green’s evolved as a player and – as he said, as a man – and he’s probably the D-League’s best bet for a Prospect that could make it to the NBA and never leave again. When you’re watching, notice his commitment to rebounding and defense, parts of his game that didn’t existed before.
For a good chunk of the NBA D-League season, there were a few holes in the league. A few big, big holes.
After a slew of post players left the league in mid-January – including Chris Daniels and Jarrid Famous, both of whom were on scouts’ radars during Showcase – the D-League’s bevy of big man dried up quick. The wave washed out so quickly, so dramatically, that Rio Grande Valley’s Greg Smith instantly became the unanimous choice for Best Big Dude, and earned himself a guaranteed contract with the Houston Rockets through the end of the season. It was essentially Houston GM Daryl Morey calling dibs.
Over time, a few names trickled back in, including Austin Toros forward/center Eric Dawson, who got called-up to the Spurs last week.
But meanwhile, a few of the guys who stuck around have sent their stocks skyward.
The biggest boost has come from Jeff Foote, the Springfield Armor’s 7-foot center. Over the past two months, Foote – the anchor in those Cinderella Cornell teams – has revealed an edge that he didn’t show a whole lot of when he was in Trail Blazers camp. Now, he’s turned into one of the league’s best rebounders, and he’s made better than 50 percent of his shots in 17 straight games.
He’ll be suiting up for the East alongside Sioux Falls’ Charles Garcia, who remains the most athletic big man in the league – although discipline problems (including a recent five-game suspension for a drug policy violation) have shrouded his 6-10 frame in a 6-11 question mark.
The Western Conference will be going small, after Smith’s call-up to the Rockets knocked out the only player above 6-foot-8 on the West squad. However, he’ll be replaced on the post by Leo Lyons, which could be a fortunate move for the Austin Toros’ star forward.
Lyons, the Toros’ leading scorer in 2011, started the season late after an injury suffered during the Pan American Games knocked him out until late December. But he’s shot to the top tier of NBA D-League Prospects of late, thanks to a string of big scoring and rebounding efforts. Now, on Saturday, he’ll have the chance to show that he can not only score against, but shut down the East’s two quality big men. With a good showing, count on Lyons to be heading up to the NBA sooner than later.
Edwin Ubiles & Elijah Millsap
The two swingmen have stood near the top of the Prospect Watch all season long. They’ve each had to work on their mid-range game, but guard/forward combos just haven’t been too popular in the call-up ranks this year. They should be in the NBA by season’s end, but pay special attention to each one’s ability to hit open shots and defend from the perimeter to the paint.
The NBA D-League fixture has already made history this year, setting the league’s all-time scoring record in addition to hitting a record 110 straight free throws. But the roadblock between Ahearn and the NBA is the same as it’s always been: the perception he’s not quick enough to make up for his lack of size and he’s not tall enough to make up for a lack of athleticism. Against the league’s premier athletes, look to see if he can keep pace, like he has all year.
An NBA team looking to add a player won’t be taking on a 30-minutes-a-game guy (with, maybe, the exception of the recently called-up Manny Harris). Instead, they’ll need 10 minutes of controlled, measured madness – especially when a compressed season that has already turned muscles into mustard hits the playoff stretch.
So look for the guys who beat everybody else up and down the floor, hustle for rebounds and dive for loose balls – the message being, “if I do this here, imagine what I’ll do for you.”
Control & Vision
Everything comes faster in the NBA. Double-teams. The transition. 10-day contracts.
The biggest reason why Justin Dentmon isn’t in the NBA – after all, the Austin Toros point guard has scorched the NBA D-League for two years now – is because he’s coughed up the ball far too much for an NBA team’s liking. Additionally, his reputation as a score-first point guard hasn’t fit in with teams that already have a rotation of marquee scorers. Dentmon’s improved in his ball control and his distribution abilities, but in a year that’s seen point guards bounce between the NBA and NBA D-League over and over, he’s got some competition.